by Faraz Baig
If anyone has ever played rec league basketball as a kid, you probably remember the time one of the players got the ball and started going towards the wrong goal. Everyone shouts frantically at him to stop, but the kid is on a mission! With laser-like focus, he swoops towards the goal, shoots, scores, and turns around with a huge grin on his face, ready to celebrate. And then…the realization hits. Woops. Yup…the rec league basketball experience never seems complete without that guy.
Just like the scenario above, with anything you do in life, you have to understand where you are trying to go before you start worrying about the how. It sounds rather easy, right? But it’s not always as black-and-white as it would be in basketball. At least in basketball, you have people desperately yelling at you when you start going the wrong way. But in real life, you usually only find out after you’ve scored in the wrong goal.
Allah, through His Mercy, has informed us of the ultimate goal: Paradise. He has also informed us of the reality of this life. The translation of verses 20-21 of Surah al-Hadid reads, “Know that the life of this world is but amusement and diversion and adornment and boasting to one another and competition in increase of wealth and children – like the example of a rain whose [resulting] plant growth pleases the tillers; then it dries and you see it turned yellow; then it becomes [scattered] debris. And in the Hereafter is severe punishment and forgiveness from Allah and approval. And what is the worldly life except the enjoyment of delusion?
Race toward forgiveness from your Lord and a Garden whose width is like the width of the heavens and Earth, prepared for those who believed in Allah and His messengers.”
Certainly, it’s very liberating to know that this life is ultimately worth nothing and that the real prize is in the Hereafter. But just knowing the ultimate goal isn’t enough: you also have to have specific goals to keep you on track day-to-day.
You see, there’s this law psychologists have called “Parkinson’s Principle.” It basically says that “the amount of time that one has to perform a task is the amount of time it will take to complete the task.” In other words, if I asked you to turn in an assignment in 30 minutes, you’d finish it up and have it to me in 30 minutes. But if I asked you to turn the same assignment in next Monday morning, guess what? You’d probably take all the way until Monday morning to finish because it tends to go to the bottom of your to-do list until then. The takeaway point: people respond to deadlines. We need deadlines in front of us; otherwise, nothing gets done.
Isn’t this so true for us as Muslims? How tempting is it to say, “I’ll become more serious about Islam later?” It’s good that we realize the importance of being serious, but unfortunately, “later” usually starts off as “after high school,” and then it becomes “after college,” and then it becomes “after I get a job,” and then it becomes “after marriage,” and so on. All this while, we can’t escape this fact: we have no idea when our time will expire.
So since we don’t know when “the” deadline (i.e. death) is, having short-term goals can give us some deadlines to help us stay on track inshaAllah.
Much has been written about harnessing the power of good goals in order to achieve success. Below are some good tips for setting good goals. By no means is this an all-inclusive list of advices for goal-setting…it’s just some nice advices I have received and have found useful:
- Intentions, intentions, intentions
Every action starts here. If you have this step down, then your pursuit will be successful, plain and simple. The Prophet (SAW) said, “The deeds are considered by the intentions, and a person will get the reward according to his intention.” (Bukhari and Muslim) So if one just has a sincere intention to seek reward from Allah, then he is already on the path to success.
- Shoot high!
Nobody shoots for the bottom in worldly affairs, right? We want the best grades, the best jobs, etc. Religion doesn’t have to be any different. Why shoot for the bottom ranks of Paradise when everyone is qualified to shoot for the top?
I love some cliché old sayings…even though they might seem cheesy, they still can drive home points, so here’s a relevant one: “Shoot for the moon, and if you miss, you’ll still land amongst the stars.”
- Be specific
“Be good” isn’t exactly the best goal. It’s similar to shooting baskets blind-folded: one knows the general direction to go in, but it leaves an awful lot to chance. Specific goals are much more meaningful. Something like “Pray 5x a day,” “recite 15 minutes of Quran before going to sleep,” “give x amount of charity once a month,” etc. will be much more useful in leading to actions.
- No action is too small!
Some of the best actions in Islam are the smallest ones. The hadith literature makes clear that many seemingly small actions, such as praying on time, reciting Quran, cleaning the Masjid, remembering Allah, standing in the front row of prayers, and even just smiling at your brother carry a humongous amount of reward. There are many more actions which yield huge blessings despite requiring only minimal effort. So if these small actions are turned into daily habits, then the rewards start to add up in a big-time hurry!
- Keep on moving forward!
Brother Imran Salha has been giving some very beneficial classes on tazkiyyah (self-purification) at IFN. One of the key points he drove home at a recent session was that in order to purify ourselves, we have to keep striving and not get lazy. A very eloquent example he used was that of water: water that is dormant gets contaminated, but water that is flowing tends to stay fresh and clean. Similarly, as Muslims, if we get lazy and stop trying to improve ourselves, we’ll decay, but if we keep pushing, we’ll keep on purifying ourselves inshaAllah.
These are just a few points. For the interested reader, there are many other materials related to goal-setting that are definitely worth reading. There are some sites specifically tailored to Muslims as well, such as productivemuslim.com.
Just remember that at the end of the day, taking any steps to please Allah pays huge dividends. As the Prophet (SAW) related to us, Allah says “He who draws close to Me a hand’s span, I will draw close to him an arm’s length. And whoever draws near Me an arm’s length, I will draw near him a fathom’s length. And whoever comes to Me walking, I will go to him running.” (Sahih Muslim)
And Allah knows best. We ask Allah to send His peace and blessings on the Prophet (SAW).